Back from a brief hiatus, Surprise Me Mr. Davis, comprised of prolific songwriter Nathan Moore and the members of The Slip, made a triumphant return to Higher Ground. The band, fresh off a ten day marathon reinvention/rebirth stint in Montreal, proved their worth performing a set heavy with brand new gems topped off with some Davis classics and a trademark magic trick from Moore.
Following their last west coast run, Moore felt the band was feeling a little exhausted and lacking new material, so he got on the phone with Brad, Andrew and Marc and made a plan to return to their roots and rejuvenate the Davis.
The band hit the stage looking exceptionally sharp in their thrift suits. There was a magic in the air as the set started and by the second song, the Davis standard “I Want To Get To Heaven Before I Die,” the band had the crowd held tightly. What followed was a set of mostly brand new compositions. The highlight was a melancholy ballad called “Joelle,” the kind of song that just woefully tears into your heart and makes you appreciate love, the good times and bad. That spirit flowed through the other new tunes as Moore’s lyrics, filled with confusion, heartache, hope and appreciation of life’s small and precious details, blend especially well with Brad Barr’s driving compositions. Even the songs from Moore’s vast 1000 song plus catalog get filled with new life when Barr dissects and then reassembles them, as was the case with “When A Women” a song from Moore’s tearfully gorgeous solo album In His Own Worlds.
The album version is a delicate country western diamond topped with the pedal steel, but the new version played on this night was a prog-rock driving, pulsing beast that just kept building until exploding into it’s final verse. A particularly funny moment happened about halfway through the set when Andrew Barr broke into an impromptu drum solo out of Moore’s blatantly raunchy barnburner “Unprotected Sex”. The band members were grooving out for the first couple moments and then started trying to get Andrew’s attention but to no avail, waving their hands and yelling. He kept beating away until Moore, in classic jester mode, slowly pulled a ten-foot pole out of his hobo suitcase and bonked Andrew on the head effectively concluding the percussive madness. The set ended with a new piece that Brad Barr recently composed for the band. It was an acapella number that started out hauntingly beautiful, then morphed into a rich Motown inspired sound with Brad singing falsetto vocal flurries passionately and telling the crowd to “listen as the crow flies by”.
Surprise Me Mr. Davis returned to the stage for an encore with Vermonter, and ex-Phish bassist, Mike Gordon grabbing a bass and holding down the low end, while Davis bassist Marc Friedman rocked out on a guitar, to the tune of “19th Nervous Breakdown”. The band rocked and swayed to the Stones’ classic as the night closed on an exceptionally high note. Surprise Me Mr. Davis is back, feisty and freshly tuned up.
Senior Glide writer Joe Adler is a singer/songwriter based out of Burlington, Vermont.
Photos by Mike Bouchard of Jambands.ca